Alex Neil: A&E waiting times still too long

HEALTH Secretary Alex Neil has admitted there is “still work to be done” to improve emergency waiting times in Scotland’s hospitals.

Alex Neil: Still work to be done. Picture: Andrew Milligan

His comments come at the end of the first year of the Scottish Government’s Unscheduled Care Action Plan in which £30 million has been pumped into improving care.

Earlier this month, public spending watchdogs at Audit Scotland revealed the number of patients forced to wait too long in A&E departments had almost trebled in five years.

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Around 104,000 people waited beyond the four-hour target in 2012-13, compared with 36,000 in 2008-9, the watchdog found in a new report.

The Scottish Government launched the care plan in February 2013, with £10 million from the Government and £20 million from local health boards in the first year. Initiatives realised so far include a unit to prevent frail, elderly patients going into hospital unnecessarily in NHS Forth Valley, and the recruitment of 24/7 flow coordinators to cut delays in NHS Fife. NHS Ayrshire and Arran has introduced a discharge hub.

Since the plan was introduced, there has been an 87 per cent reduction in the number of patients waiting more than 12 hours in A&E, the Government said. Figures showed that 93.5 per cent of people in A&E were treated within four hours in December last year – below the Government’s interim target of 95 per cent but up from 90.3 per cent in December 2012.

In that month there were 323 cases where A&E patients waited more than 12 hours.

Neil, who last week survived a no-confidence vote in parliament sparked by a row over NHS cuts in his constituency, said he was aware more needed to be done to ensure patients were seen within four hours. “We know that there is still work to be done to build in long-term sustainability of our emergency care,” he said.

Margaret Watt, chair of Scotland Patients Association, last night said: “None of the patients I have spoken to have seen an improvement. We should be reviewing the situation every six months and we need to make sure there are enough staff to cope.”

Additional staff including 18 A&E consultants have been recruited in a bid to turn around poor waiting time figures, the Government said.